Movers & Shakers Q&A – Benjy Meyer, founder of VenueScanner
Benjy Meyer, founder, VenueScanner
1.What is the greatest opportunity for your business?
The UK market for events is valued at over £50 billion annually and there is very limited consolidation in the market. The current experience for discovering, comparing and booking venues and associated event services is not designed in a user-friendly way. It’s a tech-light sector also, with lots of manual operations that do not always add maximum value for the cost. So we see an opportunity for digital disruption right across the venues and events ecosystem which in turn should grow the market further.
2.What is the biggest challenge to your business?
Like any start-up we are small and want to grow fast. That requires resources that don’t come easy. It’s chicken and egg. We need investment to grow, yet we need to grow faster to attract the investment, which includes having the right talent. Overall, I would say talent decisions are our biggest challenge right now. It’s such a big commitment for our little company, financially and in terms of time invested in recruitment and on-boarding, culture and reputation. Talent is key to our success and we strive to get it spot on.
3.With the benefit of hindsight what would you have done differently so far in your career?
I honestly have no regrets about my career to date. I’ve been really fortunate to land growth and innovation roles in massive organisations…start-ups with the safety of a corporate surrounding… a fantastic learning environment. Having said that, I maybe should have had more guts and carved out a faster route to true entrepreneurship. Friends and colleagues often encouraged me to start something new myself and I never found the true guts to follow through on it. Luckily those same friends and colleagues got me there in the end. Thanks!
4.What is the future of the physical store and the high street?
I usually have a very long answer to that question, so I’ll try to keep it short. I actually went to the supermarket the other day, it’s been a while. It was an enjoyable experience (even with my one and three year olds bouncing around in the trolley) and I rediscovered all sorts of ideas for meals. You just can’t exist your whole life in a virtual world. Humans crave interaction. A day on Trello, Slack, Hangout, WhatsApp, Facebook, YouTube and the dreaded email… what to do in your down time? Believe me I do try to lead a fully digital life 24/7 (my colleagues will tell you I’m never separated from my phone). But it becomes totally draining, exhausting and void of human contact. I (and I think we) crave more than that.
I had a fantastic experience in Massimo Dutti earlier this year where a fantastic team member in the store dressed me head to toe and sent me on my way. I just can’t get that elsewhere. The supermarket apps do such a poor job of inspiring me to discover new foods. They would rather I erode their margins and complete a multi-buy offer than extend my buying habits into a new dish or cuisine. I can get inspiration online (Inditex and others do a great job of that). But ultimately I would never do anything other than look at my phone if I didn’t head out to the shops to see the latest new thing or get some inspiration to someone who knows their stuff. The specialists can do the best job here. It’s harder for the multi-category retailers because their peoples’ product knowledge tends to be weaker, there is generally an inferior suite of services on offer and the product presentation in the store is just too ordinary.
So the high streets that will thrive are those that can bring in a mix of specialist (not necessarily independent) retailers that do more than fulfil a simple needs-based purchase. And of course bring in the right mix of adjacencies that help to drive dwell time (coffee and restaurants but also gyms, shared workspaces and kids activities).
5.What technology-related plans have you got for the next 12 months?
Well, being a tech start-up it’s a big focus for us. We are constantly looking at ways to enhance the customer journey, optimise our operating processes and use tech or data to move us ahead. It’s a daily, if not hourly, conversation. Our big idea for the next 12 months is around community creation. There are thousands, well, actually millions, of event organisers and venue hosts out there. We want to create direct, human connections between these people.
6.With the issue of digital wildfire how do you understand and control your growing digital landscape?
With the growth of digital the difficulty is prioritisation of what ‘thing’ to chase next. You need to stay small and nimble. We are determined that our digital development team will remain small. We can produce better in a small team. And as soon as we grow the team, we will be less able to prioritise, more dispersed in our attitudes and approaches. People want KPIs and so the more people we have the more sub-teams you end up with, sub-KPIs and then comes the unfortunate unintended consequence of competing KPIs. I’ve seen this unfold in a number of digital development programmes, which go slower because they get too big. If we are to stay true to our members and what they want from VenueScanner, we need to stay small but work really really fast. With a small team, we can ship code every day, several times a day.
7.What other retail business do you admire?
Okay, a few…and not just retail but broader consumer. My favourite website for many years has been i-escape.com, just the best combination of inspiration and practicality for any holiday or adventure. I admire Schuh for all the great and genuinely helpful investments they’ve made to use technology in stores, to help customers and staff alike… I’ve been converted back to visiting a store to buy shoes rather than buying online. I will never forget the thank you postcard I got from Howkapow for buying gifts from them for the first time, such a simple yet effective gesture. If Bruce Parry had a shop (or a museum maybe) I think it would be my favourite… a bit like National Geographic but more extreme.
8.If you hadn’t been a retailer what would you have liked to do?
There’s still plenty of time, that’s the good news. I’d like to take everything I’ve learned in retail, consumer and tech and apply it in a way that can really help transform peoples’ lives. I really admire all of the amazing work being done around micro finance, med tech and education to help communities that really crave it. Organisations that build truly inclusive businesses are likely to attract great talent and the best customers.
9.What marks out of 10 do you give yourself so far for achievement?
I think I’ve been fairly successful in following a ‘career path’ so far – fantastic roles in great companies surrounded by outstanding role models. I know a few people who describe my corporate journey as ‘impressive’. Others tell me I’ve ‘made my own luck’. For me, a career is all about learning, learning, and learning. The day I stop learning, I know my career is over. And I think I have a lot more to learn. So, I’ll go with a four out of 10.
10.Who would you place in the Top 25 Multi-channel/e-commerce Movers & Shakers?
Are you really going to publish an answer to this question? I think you have them covered in your ranking. The only thing I’d say is that you’re only as good as your team. So, best to call out great teams than great individuals I believe.